Posted on March 3, 2011 - by

Plastic, Plastic Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink

Image: Chris Jordan

Bottles, saran wrap, sneakers, car bumpers and beach balls. We are living in a plastic world, and though the ubiquitous amounts of plastic may be fine for people on land, there is one place where plastic definitely does not belong—the ocean.

In the L.A. Times’ “Altered Oceans” series, Kenneth Weiss investigates the mountains of plastic and trash clogging our seas. Almost 90% of the trash floating in the ocean is plastic, and 80% of this comes from land, washed into rivers and then out to sea. The remaining waste comes from ships, which illegally throw floats, equipment and other trash overboard to avoid paying disposal fees in port (LAT).

What happens to plastic that gets washed into the sea? When exposed to sunlight, plastic photodegrades into smaller and smaller pieces, but never fully breaks down. The polymer fragments remain in the upper column of the ocean, creating a “soup” of suspended plastic particulate.

Hidden in the flyover zone between San Francisco and Hawaii lies the Great Pacific Trash Patch. This floating vortex of plastic pollution drifts in an area twice the size of Texas. Here, the currents bring plastic debris from all corners of the Pacific, where it will lazily sunbathe and disintegrate into fragments. “It moves around like a big animal without a leash,” said oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer. “When it gets close to an island, the garbage patch barfs, and you get a beach covered with this confetti of plastic” (LAT).

Tragically, some of the plastic will end up in the bellies of seabirds and around the necks of marine animals. Albatross chicks are particularly vulnerable because they are inadvertently fed plastic by their well-meaning parents. The bits of plastic can puncture a chick’s esophagus and fill its stomach, leaving no room for food or water. And they are not the only victims. It is estimated that one million seabirds choke or get tangled in netting or other debris every year, along with 100,000 seals, sea turtles, sea lions, whales and other animals (LAT).

Disturbed by the amount of plastic that collects in the stomachs of birds? What can you do to use and throw away less plastic?

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  1. Visit My Website

    March 3, 2011


    Waneta Kratz said:

    I am a graduate student in the UWSP College of Natural Resources in Stevens Point, WI. My research is studying compostable plastic food service ware, which is purchased and used on campus, but currently goes to a landfill. My hope is that my work drives a campus wide composting initiative. Thank you for posting this…plastic is such a big problem that often gets looked over. The picture is unreal.

  2. Visit My Website

    March 3, 2011


    Crystal Cun said:

    I have always wondered about the so-called ecofriendly plastic ware…does it really degrade and if so, under what conditions? I’d love to learn more!